Commonwealth of Australia
Manhattan has this sort of mini-chain of Australian-themed fast food shops named Tuck Shop. I am not really that ashamed to admit that drunkenly inhaling a meat pie at this establishment has been, up to now, the most I have ever thought about Australian “cuisine” – I mean, how much do YOU know about Australian food? Seriously.
Kangaroo steaks and shrimp-on-the-barbie don’t count. Nor does anything you’ve had at Outback Steakhouse, despite their glaringly authentic Bloomin’ Onion, and whatever the hell Kookaburra Wings are.
In prepping for this entry, I dug around for a good while and confirmed from several sources that mincemeat pies are indeed a classic Australian dish, simply representing a version of the traditional English meat pie. I also learned that many Aussies actually find Tuck Shop to be a reasonable facsimile of what can be found Down Under, so I decided that the Tuck Shop pie would become the archetype for my own.
First I had to make the crust, which is a pretty standard pie shell – just flour, salt, water and fat. Some recipes called for using lard, others for beef suet, and still other for butter. I went with butter, working these ingredients into a light dough and kneading for a good while until the dough was pliable. I rolled out some sheets and draped them into some small tart cups.
The meaty stew that fills an Aussie pie is an ocean of savory, fatty gravy and toothsome minced steak. A few recipes that I found called for ground beef, but others specified round steak, finely diced. I knew that, instead of ground beef, minced steak would present 1) better quality, identifiable meat, and 2) a more substantial texture. Since there’s little else in this stew, the beef really has to take center stage.
To make my stew, I merged a few recipes and included some well-known flavor-enhancers: anchovy paste, Worcestershire sauce, and an Aussie must – Vegemite.
I should confess that am just absolutely struggling here to not use the word “umami”, mostly because I think it’s a word that’s embarassingly overused in food blogging, and then used incorrectly most of the time anyway. It’s one of those clichéd buzzwords that makes me want to throw a wooden spoon across the kitchen, but really, when you discuss Vegemite, there may be no other word that sums it up. It’s pure, deep richness, and it takes this minced steak to a whole new level. Aussies often eat it on toast or in a sandwich. Most people around here who’ve tried it hate it, but I personally think it’s awesome – it tastes like bouillon, or reduced soy sauce, or… something.
With the pies now filled just to the brim with beefy bliss, I pressed on a layer of puff pastry (commercial, no way in hell was I making puff pastry from scratch, dude) and sealed them shut with the tines of a fork. After that, a quick egg wash for nice, golden color and a trip into the hellish environs of my oven.
A couple of them may have been filled a little too much since they busted open a little, but for the most part they held together.
Now, even though these meat pies were kind of labor intensive, I still felt like I could do more to represent Australia. Deeper research uncovered an amazing truth – Aussies like to half-submerge their pies in a bowl of pea soup, bringing into being the scatologically dubbed “pie floater”. It certainly didn’t take much more effort to make a batch of pea soup, plus fresh peas are juuuuust in season, which was an even better reason to take advantage.
I’m not gonna lie, folks. I got into the spirit of the meat pie, a favorite post-drinking snack in Australia, by drinking. (Anyone who knows me knows that this means I had no more than two beers and was, somehow, heaving drunk.) Then, I ate. And man, was it good.
Now you go:
Aussie Meat Pies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
4 tbsp butter, softened
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 lb. lean steak, trimmed of all fat and minced by hand (bottom round or “London Broil” works)
1 tbsp of cornstarch
3/4 cup of beef stock
1/8 cup of tomato paste
1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Vegemite
4 sheets frozen, ready-rolled puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
First make the filling: saute onion until soft, then add minced beef and saute until browned. Add all other ingredients, stir well and simmer until reduced to very thick stew. Set aside to cool.
Now make the pie base: sift flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a small well, add water and begin to incorporate. When a loose dough forms, add butter and knead well to completely combine. Form dough into a ball and set aside for 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 quarters. On a well-floured surface, roll out each quarter until 1/4″ thin, then gently drape into buttered and floured pie tins. Press firmly into tin. Trim the edges of the dough, leaving 1/2 inch overlap all the way around.
Fill to level with the cold beef filling. Moisten edge of pie base with a little water, then press on puff pastry sheet. Using a fork, seal the the pie shut all the way around and remove any excess dough that is hanging over the edge of the pie. Repeat to make three more pies.
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Lightly brush top of pies with a little beaten egg. Move into oven and bake for 20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.
Green Pea Soup
2 tbsp butter
4 shallots, minced
2 cups water
3 cups fresh green peas
salt & pepper, to taste
3 tbsp heavy cream
Saute shallots in butter until soft. Add water and peas, season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until peas are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender. Return to saucepan, fold in heavy cream, and bring to a simmer. Serve hot.